Choosing the Right School Curriculum

Education - Saigon/HCMC: March 1, 2021

American Curriculum

British Curriculum

International Baccalaureate (IB)

The word ‘curriculum’ is a bit daunting to non-educators. Sometimes it seems so vast that it encompasses everything and at other times it seems so vague it appears to be all fluff. So how do you tell which school curriculum in Ho Chi Minh City is right for your child?


Basically, a school’s curriculum defines what students are expected to understand in every subject area at each grade level. It provides the teachers with an outline for what they are to teach, how they are to teach it and how they are to assess what the students have learned. Different curricula are aligned to different standards and benchmarks, assessments and teaching practices.

Here in Ho Chi Minh City the international school market is dominated by three different systems of education: American, British and International Baccalaureate. No matter which of these parents choose, their children will learn mathematics, science, literacy and social studies. But there are differences with how they will be taught.

An American Curriculum

As there is no national curriculum in America, but there is something called the Common Core State Standards Initiative. 41 states and the District of Columbia have signed up to the initiative which aims to ensure that students graduating from high school are prepared for college. However, each state is still responsible for creating its curriculum. Thus, American system schools overseas can vary greatly as they develop their own curriculum and are free to adopt standards and benchmarks taken from any of the 50 states. 

Choosing the Right School Curriculum

Many such schools will choose different subject areas from different states. For example, mathematics standards may come from California while those for language arts may come from New York. This gives the schools the flexibility to adapt to their student population, and also means that not all American schools are the same. 

The British Curriculum

British schools follow the United Kingdom’s National Curriculum. This curriculum sets programs of study and assessment for students in five key stages.

Key Stage 1: 5 to 7 years old
Key Stage 2: 8 to 11 years old
Key Stage 3: 12 to 14 years old
Key Stage 4: 15 and 16 years old
Key Stage 5: 17 and 18 years old. 

Choosing the Right School Curriculum

In the final year of each Key Stage assessments are given to see how students are progressing against the government standards. This national curriculum was developed to ensure that all students learn the same content universally. The UK government regularly reviews and updates the curriculum but as some aspects of the British curriculum are not relevant to international students, international schools outside of the UK may adjust the curriculum to meet their students needs. They may also adopt an international curriculum for their younger learners. 

The International Baccalaureate 

In 1968 a group of teachers got together to create a program with the hopes of providing students with a rigorous and comprehensive education, which would prepare them for the needs of a changing world. This became known as the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program (IBDP) and the “IB” was born. 

The IB is different to the American and British systems because it is not a curriculum but rather a curriculum framework. This means that each IB school uses the IB’s outlined learner outcomes to develop its own program of study. This can result in slight differences between IB schools. 

Currently there are four different programs in the International Baccalaureate: the primary years (PYP), the middle years (MYP), the diploma program (DP) and the career-related program (CP). As all of the programs are standalone, students do not have to complete the previous one in order to be able to study the next.

Choosing the Right School Curriculum

Quality schools have their curriculum - both written and assessed - reviewed by outside authorities on a regular basis. In America there are six regional associations who conduct such reviews. In the U.K., the British Government Department of Education has tasked Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education) to charge seven agencies with inspecting British Schools Overseas (BSO) against standards set for overseas schools. The IB reviews all schools before they are authorized to run any of the IB programs. To ensure that the school you are considering for your child has been appropriately assessed, ask the principal or head teacher for details of the school’s accreditations, or visit their website. International Schools in Ho Chi Minh City are keen to share evidence of their high standards, so evidence of quality assessments should be easy to access. 


Despite the range of curriculums available, it still stands that there is not yet a system that is perfect for every single student. But with such a variety of options in Ho Chi Minh City, your child is well placed to receive a top class education, whichever curriculum you may choose. Our advice is to not rush the decision and to ask as many questions as you need answered before taking the plunge. And remember, nothing is irreversible. As your child grows, their needs may change. There are many facets about a school which parents should look into before choosing a school for their child, and the curriculum is just one of them.